The time has come. The moment has arrived. I think when the disciples gathered, they were probably sitting much more closely together. We might think that they were gathered in the upper room because they were afraid but they were celebrating, it’s why there were so many people in the city. The festival of Shavuot 50 days after Passover, like Pentecost comes 50 days after Resurrection. Shavuot is the remembrance of God giving the Law to the Hebrew people through Moses at Mount Sinai and one of the traditions is to stay up all night and read the Torah.
Can you picture it, this group of friends, who had traveled together, studied with and under Jesus, and now they spent all night reading and talking about the scriptures together. I bet it was bittersweet. Filled with “Do you remember when Jesus talked about this…?” “Do you remember our first Passover together? the last one?” “What do you think he would say about…?” “Hey Peter! Remember when we kinda met Moses?” Hours would have gone by. Perhaps the whole of Jerusalem was filled with murmurs of readings and questions and ideas and answers whispered next to sleeping children and debated around tables.
And as the sun began to rise and the people started to leave their homes and they hadn’t slept for hours. It was in those moments, that the Spirit that was promised arrived. It was one Spirit, one proclamation of Good News in a way that it went to each person and each person could be heard and understood. Allowing for each person’s language and culture, and still part of the one Spirit.
When God gave the law the Hebrew people, they were just starting to form the community that they would strive to become. The Law, the Torah, it united them, told them what kind of people they would be. Did you know, there are laws in the Torah to return lost items to their proper owners, even those you consider your enemy? And a law that if your enemy’s donkey, so weighed down with goods, falls in a ditch, and mom’s have warned us for years about how dangerous ditches are, the law calls it’s followers to help their enemy, and their enemy’s donkey. The Israelites are called to be a community that does good no matter what they feel about the person.
When God gave the Spirit to the disciples, they were just starting to form the community that they would strive to become. At Pentecost, it has the earliest markings of being an inclusive community. In Galatians, we’ve learned the long term consequences of the expanding community–sometimes it’s hard and confusing and we don’t speak the same language–whether language or ideas about who God is. Paul is trying to help these churches and Galatia work out what it means to be a community, because that is that this whole thing is all about–community.
So we have some lists, which gets us to what most people think they know about Paul–this guy, telling us what not to do again. And when I think about someone telling me to avoid desires of the flesh, I assume they are talking about things related to sex. And Paul doesn’t let us down. Nothing on the list has the specificity of helping your enemy’s donkey. Impurity, idolatry, jealousy, conflict, selfishness, drunkenness, and as Paul says, et cetera.
Translations of ancient texts are imperfect. * At the beginning of this section, vs 16, The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible says “Live by the Spirit and don’t…” the Common English Bible says “Be guided by the Spirit and you won’t…” which seems so different.
To me, “Live by the Spirit and don’t…” has done untold damage to the souls of people who genuinely wanted to follow Jesus. I think about purity culture and the shame of how some churches talked about sex impacted mostly women when they did what they got married like they were “supposed” to. And when I was taught the list of things not to do, it was about the things I wasn’t supposed to do. I had to refrain. It was about me. Which doesn’t sound like Paul.
What if we’re guided by the Spirit? What if instead of focusing on list of things not to do, we focus on the Spirit of God moving through our lives and this church and the world? What if we focus on the goodness of God’s creation, the redemptive teachings of Jesus, the growing of community centered on the God who is love and Christ lives among us?
Because this list is a kind of vague, but it does have a common theme: these are actions that damage community. Participating in this can be self serving, self indulging, selfish. I know what you’re thinking, maybe, someone is, “Sex is private!” and we will not be teaching purity culture here. But, 1 of 6 women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse. And Wisconsin is in the top 5 states for sex trafficking.
The reason the Temperance movement started, one of the driving forces behind prohibition, was because wives were tired of getting beat when their husbands came home drunk. And if it were my enemy’s donkey stuck in a ditch, weighed down by all the goods, the nice things to sell or were purchased by my, now it seems, wealthy enemy, I might be jealous of him, feeling a little schottenfreude, smirking at his misfortune as I pass on by. That wasn’t on Paul’s list, exactly.
But if you are guided by, if your focus is, if you set your eyes on the Spirit that brings new life and the God who is love and Christ who is present all around us, the fruit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Turns out, it’s a singular fruit. You can’t pick love and kindness, and leave patience and self-control for other people. It’s all part of the one Spirit, it’s one blessing.
It’s not natural. And if we’re born with sensing the Spirit, being guided by the Spirit, the world tries to remove it from us, teaches that it isn’t about an “us” it’s about “me.” So it takes practice, it takes intention, it takes time.
We are guided by the Spirit that bears fruit that raises up community, by learning to recognize the Spirit. We do that by connecting with the Divine-in prayer or meditation or reflection or quiet, a walk in the park or an early morning run or coffee by a window, by making space to hear the Spirit in the quiet. By reading the bible or theology or memoirs or poetry or fiction, by finding the voice of the still speaking God in words and lives of others. By intimate conversations or large group seminars or sitting with your grandchildren, by seeing Christ in the face of someone you love, someone you can’t stand, someone you don’t know.
Jesus basically said, “where your heart is, your money will follow.” Where you invest your time, your energy, your thoughts, your priorities, those will bear fruit. It will manifest in the world around you.
If our focus is on the Spirit that brings life and calls us to community, how can we not offer kindness to our enemy and their donkey in a ditch. Or faithfulness to those in our community who are struggling to make ends meet, or peace for those whose lives are becoming unrecognizable in their change, or love for those who long for justice or safety or home.
What Spirit are you seeking? What is manifesting in your life that reveals what Spirit is guiding you? How does it affect relationships and community? Because we’re always being guided by something, something motivates us and is revealed in our actions-our fruit.
When we gather, as imperfect and struggling and hopeful and broken and beautiful and full of grace individuals that we are, we gather as community: as imperfect and struggling and hopeful and broken and beautiful and full of grace. We are always in the process of becoming the community we are called to be. We are learning how to listen, to be lead, to be present to the Spirit of God that calls us into relationship with the Divine and with each other and with all of creation.
May you take a moment,
Take a deep breath
And ask the Creator of the Cosmos
The Christ in all things
The Spirit that brings and guides life
The next step, the next move, the next manifestation,
the next fruit you, we are to bear.